Barry Lynn is the top guy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and a cartoonish presence on talking head television, ever-ready to declare the imminent threat of theocracy in the land. It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that the organization Lynn leads last week leveled a series of very serious charges against almost everyone at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The report, available here in PDF, is among the worst examples of McCarthyism since Joe McCarthy stood up on February 9, 1950, and declared that "I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department."
Lynn and his gang of wreckers are not rooting out Reds, of course, but something far more dangerous in their eyes: evangelical Christians, from the Commandant of Cadets General Johnny Weida to the head football coach Fisher DeBerry to Air Force "Chaplain of the Year" Major Warren Watties.
The "report" from Americans United's legal director and assistant legal director concludes with the breathless and bold-typed exclamation: "We have concluded that both the specific violations and the promotion of a culture of official religious intolerance are pervasive, systemic, and evident at the very highest levels of the Academy's command structure."
Unfortunately, the acting secretary of the Air Force quickly established a task force to investigate the report's allegations before considering whether the group issuing it was worthy of trust on such a matter, whether the specific charges can be considered to have risen to a level worthy of further investigation, and whether the appropriate response might not have been a demand of Americans United for their sources before launching such a high-profile, well, we can't quite call it a "witch hunt," can we?
Even a cursory review of AU's "report" reveals it is built on multiple levels of undocumented hearsay. Over and over again the phrase "we have been informed" introduces an allegation of misconduct, or "we have received a host of reports" leads to a serious charge. There are zero footnotes and zero affidavits attached to the report. Not even amazing charges such as the assertion that "General Weida has established a system of code words that he shares with evangelical Christian cadets in order to provide them with opportunities to proselytize others in the Cadet Wing" raised eyebrows with the acting secretary. When Barry Lynn's staff charges "egregious violations of the Establishment Clause," the Pentagon should know that this is like Peter crying wolf for the ten thousandth time.
Lynn's zealots could be expected to claim that their "sources" could not be revealed for fear of retribution, but offers of third party review by non-Air Force experts would have at least guaranteed career officers who have served this country for decades would have been spared this legitimization of purple charges already being carried like a virus into the mainstream media.
It is still not too late for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to act to assure that the officers and cadets of the Air Force Academy are not subjected to an unnecessary inquisition prompted by a band of hard-left ideologues. There are times when the fever swamp deserves to be called just that, rather than credited with an authority or objectivity they have never earned and certainly don't deserve in a context that sees them sliming real public servants.
Put the task force on hold, and ask for the back-up. If there are credible assertions, determined as such by credible third parties skilled in Establishment and Free Exercise Clause doctrine, then quietly empanel an investigation. Asking "how high" when Barry Lynn says jump is a terrible decision.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.